Getting “the pill” in Japan…

As a non-Japanese woman living in Japan, and as a representative of Being A Broad, I feel it is my duty to share the following story. It’s a slightly different topic to my usual posts, and it’s definitely one for the ladies! 😉

So, one of the annoying and troublesome things about being a foreign woman in Japan, is having to figure out a way to get “the pill” (if you want it). It still isn’t commonly used by Japanese women, and therefore it’s not so easy to get hold of. I’ve managed so far – 2 years and 4 months – using the ones I brought with me, getting more when I went home, finding a legit website where I could get a few packs, and only once having to visit the doctor in Japan. When I finally did visit the doctor, it was a strange experience. I went to see a doctor in Nagoya, recommended by a friend because he spoke English. Well, he did speak English, but I don’t think he was actually that good. After the dreaded examination (which, by the way ladies, is even more humiliating and icky in Japan!), he gave me a pill I had never seen before called Triquilar 21. He assured me it was just the same as the one I’d been taking. It wasn’t.

Before, I have taken Microgynon 30 and Ovranette, which are basically the same. They are the kind where you have 21 pills which are the same, and then 7 days off. Triquilar 21 does indeed have 21 pills, but it’s actually a “triphasic” rather than a “monophasic” pill. Basically, that means it has three different colour pills with different amounts of hormones in them, instead of all the pills being the same colour and with the same amounts of hormones in them.

Anyway, I can’t be sure it was the Triquilar, but my moods have been crazy lately, and I feel like it’s probably to blame. So I realised it was time I found a new doctor in Hamamatsu.

I asked another friend to recommend an English-speaking doctor, and it turned out there was one nearby. So, today, after my Japanese class, I bravely set off on my mission. When you see a doctor in Japan, it seems to be perfectly normal to just show up with no appointment and wait, so that’s what I was prepared to do. However, when I got to the clinic it was closed for lunch until 3:30pm. Doh.  So, I went home, and came back just before 3:30.

Of course, when I returned to the clinic, there were lots of other people waiting. I had expected to have to wait, but I waited so long I actually finished the book I was reading! I finally got to see the doctor at about 4:50. I had given the nurse the packet from my Microgynon 30, so the doctor could be prepared.

As I entered the room, the doctor was scowling at the packet. He spoke English, but heavily accented and very broken. He asked me if the packet was from England. I said it was. He scowled some more. He told me Japan doesn’t have this medicine. So, I launched into the story of the Triquilar. I told him what had happened, and that I knew (from friends) that it was possible to get the same type of pill as the one I had been on, and that I didn’t want Triquilar again.  And then he told me that, actually, he is a “doctor of internal medicine” (whatever that means exactly), and that he didn’t know anything about medicine for women. He told me he basically had no idea what he was looking at, and therefore he couldn’t prescribe anything for me.

He wasn’t all bad though.  He then proceeded to draw me a map of the nearest gynaecologist.  So, I left the clinic without having paid anything for the doctor’s time, and attempted to follow the map. Actually, it was a very good map, and I was there in no time. It was around 5pm and I had no idea what time they opened until, but I had come too far to give up now!

Entering the clinic, I instantly felt like I was in the right place. I’ve never been to a gynaecologist, but it was pretty much as I expected – very feminine and pink!  I approached the counter and faced the first hurdle – did they speak English? No. Ok… So I attempted to explain the reason for my visit in broken Japanese. I took out the Microgynon 30 packet only. “Kore hoshii.” I said (I want this.)  They looked puzzled, and asked me if that was medicine from a foreign country. I told them it was. They looked ready to show me the door, so I pulled out the Triquilar packet and attempted to explain. “Ah… Piru.” The nurse kept saying. Yes, yes, I want the pill, but I don’t want the Triquilar one.

They couldn’t understand what I was trying to say about the Microgynon and the Triquilar being different. I know my Japanese needs a lot of work, but was it really so hard to understand?? I tried to keep calm and basically kept repeating what I was saying. I didn’t know any other way.  I said something like, (pointing at the Microgynon packet) “kore wa, mai nichi, onaji kusuri, onaji iro” (these, every day, the same medicine, the same colour), (pointing at the Triquilar packet) “kore wa, mai nichi, onaji janai, onaji iro janai” (these, every day, not the same, not the same colour).

By now, there were 3 nurses trying to understand me, and one male doctor who just kept passing by in the background.  Didn’t all of you people have to study English at school?, I found myself thinking.  I don’t want to be someone who expects people to speak English in Japan, but you would think in a clinic in a large city, someone would speak a little bit.  Then, all of a sudden, the older nurse attempted a few words, very reluctantly. She kept looking at me like I was a piece of gum stuck to her shoe that she couldn’t quite shake off, though.

Anyway, this post is becoming a rant, so I’ll cut to the chase. The nurse who now apparently spoke English pulled out a pamphlet for Marvelon 21 (in English!), and it appeared to be just the same deal as Microgynon 30 and Ovranette. I was so relieved by this point that I could have cried (that may be the Triquilar talking though…). At first, it seemed the nurse wanted to give me just one sample pack.  I couldn’t bear the thought of having to come back any time soon, so I asked “kaemasuka?” (can I buy it?). She whipped out a calculator and told me that one pack cost 3150 Yen – how many would I like? Seriously, after all this palaver was it going to be as easy as that?  I hesitantly asked if I could buy 6 packs, and without a blink she rang it up.

Did you notice anything strange?  Yes, that’s right, they didn’t even examine me.  In fact, she didn’t ask to see my insurance card, she didn’t take my name, she didn’t ask me any health-related questions. She just sold me 6 packs of a pill I have never taken before and sent me on my way!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not complaining.  Hell, she even told me I could go back and buy more when they run out.  But, isn’t that just a little bit strange?

I hope this post doesn’t put any of you women off living in Japan. I’m sure in large cities like Tokyo you wouldn’t have to face these problems. But, if you’re planning to live in a smaller city, just be prepared, ok? I guess I could have taken a Japanese friend along with me, but I like to try to figure stuff out on my own. However, I do wish my Japanese had been better today!  Mind you, even if it had been, I think my day may have been similar. The pill just isn’t as widely accepted here and, therefore, getting it is not exactly a piece of cake.  Also, I did feel a certain amount of “oh no, a gaijin just walked in” today, which I don’t often feel here.

Do any of you women have other stories to share? I’d be interested to hear them! I really admire those of you who have lived here a long time and had babies and stuff – I don’t know how you managed all those visits to the doctor/gynaecologist!! 😉

Footnote: I have just had a closer look at the pills I bought and discovered she actually showed me the leaflet for Marvelon 21 and sold me Marvelon 28! I think it’s almost the same though – just has 7 fake pills, right?  Geez….

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20 thoughts on “Getting “the pill” in Japan…

  1. Honestly, it’s easier to get marijuana where I live than get the pill. I live in the US too. I don’t understand why it’s so difficult except for the fact that there is still a misguided notion that people don’t want to think about real women having control over their own bodies. Or that they might have sex. Sad to say that the pill really is more about hormones and is used by a lot of women to keep from having excessive periods and anemia. Maybe some day things will be easier. I hope so.

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    • Ever hear of planned parenthood? There it’s so easy and the cheapest (not free tho) way to get it in the US. That story was really useful to me since i’m going to go to japan and all I read about the pill was that they don’t use it in Japan! Thank God that’s not entirely true!!! Thanks so much.

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  2. Hey!

    If you are in Nagoya, Saint Sophia’s ladies clinic in the Tower offices is pretty good. The doctors are all female and some can speak English. The reception is in Japanese and that was a little more difficult but it was fairly simple to go through the process. That place was recommended to me. They are very thorough in their check…and fairly quick. They don’t have the same prescription as the one you mentionned but another one called OC. They sell you one month to check for side effects and then you can buy what you want- need.

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  3. Thanks for this story!
    It encouraged me to tell the story, which actually was never really solved and ask a couple of questions.
    I was visiting a friend in Japan and i was passing through those days when women are very unhappy… The problem that I faced was: which garbage bag is proper for throwing my used pads away? I brought the pads with me from my country and never tried the japanese ones. Aren’t the japanese ones made of both: a kind of paper and plastic like those in most of the countries I’ve been to? and if they are the same, then which is the right garbage bag? burnable? you shouldn’t burn plastic though…

    Iif you find this comment irrelevant, please delete it 🙂

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    • This is a perfectly relevant comment! I had the same thought myself. I always chose burnable. In Nagoya, they changed the rules, and some plastics were ok in the burnable bag. In Hamamatsu, perhaps it’s not ok (I’m actually not sure) but I’m certainly not going to separate them!!

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  4. It´s quite weird, isn´t it, cos I always thought Japan was quite a sexually permissive society! Don´t like the sound of the icky examination. I´ve never had anything more than questions and a blood pressure check in the UK…or were you referring to smears??

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    • Yes, I was referring to a smear test. The doctor in Nagoya said it was standard procedure to do a smear test every time you get the pill in Japan, and even though I said I had had one recently (lie!) he made me have one. And, believe me, not fun!! >_<

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    • Thanks Louana! I wish my Japanese were good enough to read that… Maybe I can get a friend to help!

      Hey – I just saw your blog – didn’t realise you left Japan!!

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  5. I was on the pill from age 19 to 26 but I started getting migraines. I tried the POP and Implant but no improvement so I tried Natural Family Planning and liked it a lot. I will be using it again when my periods come back, probably when Akira stops drinking so much milk!

    It’s not easy to find the things you need (teacher, very accurate thermometer and charts to complete) in the UK, but I’ve seen the thermometers and charts in a pharmacy here, so maybe there are teachers around too. The most cautious way to use it (only have sex after ovulation until your next period) is very reliable. The best book on it is Taking Charge of Your Fertility (http://tcoyf.com/)

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  6. Dear Haikugirl!
    I happen to live here in Hamamatsu as a gaijin, and I seriously need an English speaking gynaecologist. (It seems that I am pregnant, and will have to give birth here in Japan.) Any help would be very much appreciated!
    Kriszta

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  7. Where in hamamatsu did you go if you dont mind me asking. I arrived a month a go, i have 5 months left of my current pill and i am worried about what will happen next. I can’t speak much japanese tho! Thank you!

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  8. Hey, I know this is probably a bit late in the game (5 years after said article in fact!) however, some have mentioned getting their birth control sent to them online, does anyone have some websites you would recommend? I have a condition called PCOS or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and I take to pill to control the symptoms. I have 9 months supply of the pill but I am concerned about when my supplies run out. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated! Thanks ladies.

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